Today’s (October 29) ‘trick or treat’ Autumn Budget has failed to give hope to ordinary people struggling to make ends meet in an economy dominated by low wages and insecure work.
Against this backdrop of average households’ heightened frustration and suffering, Labour’s Liverpool Walton MP Dan Carden is hosting a stage play adapted from Robert Tressell’s classic novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists to be shown in Parliament on Nov 1.
The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists is a semi-autobiographical story reflecting Tressell’s experience as a painter and decorator struggling to make ends meet. The protagonist, Frank Owen, tries to convince his work colleagues that it is capitalism that is causing their problems at work.
One key chapter, called the “The Great Money Trick”, sees Owen demonstrate to his colleagues how the capitalist system works against them – he uses bread to represent raw materials and knives to represent machinery. Owen puts them to ‘work’ slicing bread with knives and highlights that while their employer doesn’t work, he becomes rich, while the people who work are constantly swapping coins for food and wages while not being materially any better off.
The book is considered a classic socialist text and has inspired a wide range of people who’ve praised the book, including author George Orwell and more recently actor, comedian and trade unionist Ricky Tomlinson, MPs Tom Watson and Dennis Skinner, and Unite general secretary Len McCluskey.
Carden explains why he was inspired to bring in a stage production of the book – by Townsend Productions and actor Neil Gore – to be performed for MPs, parliamentary staff and other guests on Thursday, November 1.
“Robert Noonan, better known as Robert Tressell, is buried in a pauper’s grave in Rice Lane City Farm in Walton, and I like to count him as one of my constituents,” he said.
“After my Constituency Labour Party hosted two performances of The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists earlier this month, I was inspired to bring this fantastic production to Parliament on Budget week.
“With the drive towards an increasingly low-paid, insecure, zero-hours jobs market under this Tory Government, Robert Tressell’s classic, and the lessons it teaches us, remain all-too relevant more than a century after it was first published,” he added.
“The ‘money trick’ shows us that it is the system, not the people, that is failing. This week my colleagues and I will be holding the Chancellor to account for his own money tricks to cover up the systemic flaws in our economy, which have been exacerbated by the ideologically-driven disaster of austerity.”
“Against the backdrop of soaring inequality and record levels of in-work poverty, it is clearer than ever that we need a real alternative. It is not enough to merely tinker around the edges of a rigged system. I hope this performance will inspire us to redouble our efforts to bring about that change.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has called The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists “one of the great books everyone should read if they want to know about the world of work.”
“Anyone I meet, I urge them to read it,” he said in a documentary celebrating 100 years since the book was written.
Of today’s Autumn Budget, McCluskey said, “Austerity was always a political choice, and the Tories’ choice was to make the people pay for the greed of the banking elite. It is high time they took their tired, failing ideas and moved out of the way.
“We need a government that will actually invest in decent homes, jobs, wages and public services, one that can create a hopeful vision for the UK after Brexit and where the chronic under-funding of our schools, hospitals and police will cease.
“Today we needed a budget for the many. Instead we got one for the few.